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Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson

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Title: The Arts and Crafts Movement

Author: Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson

Release Date: August 4, 2010 [EBook #33350]

Language: English

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The Movement, passing under the name of 'Arts and Crafts,' admits of
many definitions. It may be associated with the movement of ideas,
characteristic of the close of the last century, and be defined to be
an effort to bring it under the influence of art as the supreme mode in
which human activity of all kinds expresses itself at its highest and
best; in which case the so-called 'Arts and Crafts Exhibitions' would
be but a symbolic presentment of a whole by a part, itself incapable of
presentment: or it may be associated with the revival, by a few
artists, of hand-craft as opposed to machine-craft, and be defined to
be the insistence on the worth of man's hand, a unique tool in danger
of being lost in the substitution for it of highly organized and
intricate machinery, or of emotional as distinguished from merely
skilled and technical labour: or again, it may be defined to be both
the one and the other, and to have a wider scope than either; as for
example, it may be defined to constitute a movement to bring all the
activities of the human spirit under the influence of one idea, the
idea that life is creation, and should be creative in modes of art, &
that this creation should extend to all the ideas of science and of
social organization, to all the ideas and habits begotten of a
grandiose and consciously conceived procession of humanity, out of
nothing and nowhere, into everything and everywhere, as well as to the
merely instrumental occupations thereof at any particular moment.

No definition, however, is orthodox or to be propounded with authority:
each has its apostles: and besides the definitions attempted above,
there are still others, some of them, indeed, concerning themselves
only with the facilities to be afforded to the craftsman for the
exhibition, advertisement, and sale of his wares.

Nor do I propose, myself, to propound one at this stage of my
description of the movement. I merely adumbrate the shifting goal, as
it may have presented itself to the minds of the men engaged in the
movement, that you may know at the outset, in vision, those far-off
heights, which they, or some of them, essayed not only themselves to
climb, but to make all mankind also to climb.

It is to the movement itself that I will first ask your attention.

Art is one, though manifold, and when the Royal Academy of Arts, in
spite of many protests, continued to restrict its Academic Exhibitions
to Painting, Sculpture, and Abstract Architecture, a body of protesters
came together, not any longer to protest only, but this time to
constitute a society of exhibitioners who should widen the academic
conception of art, and open its exhibitions to all forms of art,
provided only that the form _was_ of art, born of the imagination, and
destined to touch the imagination.

Such a society was in due time formed, and, under the name of the 'Arts
and Crafts Exhibition Society,' initiated the wider movement which,
from itself as source, has spread all the world over, and created a new
interest. The arts and crafts have been born again, and, in a new
sense, occupy the attention of mankind.

The first exhibition was held in the New Gallery, in London, in the
autumn of 1888. It is not necessary to dwell on the exhibits which
stand enumerated in the catalogue now before me. It is sufficient to
say that whereas each exhibit, standing alone, might have been seen
without any sense of a new 'movement' being on foot, the accumulation,
under one roof and idea, of so many different and differently conceived
things of beauty, made a marked impression on the public imagination, &
unmistakably heralded the advent of a new force into society, at once
creative and classificatory. Old things, long since done, were to be
put into new relations, & upon a higher plane, and all new work was to
be conceived of as convergent upon one end, the dignity and sweetness
of life, and the workman--artist or craftsman--was to derive therefrom
his measure of happiness & delight. And that work, which for the world
had lost all association with human initiative & solicitude, was to be
made to resume that intimate relation, and the workman himself to be
recalled into the assembly of those who are consciously striving to the
acknowledged end. The workmen contributing to the creation of a work
were to be thenceforward named its author, and to have their names
inscribed upon the great roll of the world's ever visible record.

Such appeared to be the new movement of which the first exhibition of
the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was the first overt act.

Besides the enumeration and description of exhibits, the catalogue
contained a preface by the President, Walter Crane; a notice of
lectures to be given in connexion with the exhibition; and a number of
'Notes' upon various arts & crafts written by men who, as stated in the
preface, were associated with the subjects of which they treated, not
in the literary sense only, but as actual designers and workmen.

The object of the lectures was stated to be twofold: (1) To set out the
aims of the Society; and (2) by demonstration & otherwise, to direct
attention to the processes employed in the arts and crafts, and so to
lay a foundation for a just appreciation, both of the processes
themselves, and of their importance as methods of expression in design.

And here I may intercalate an extract from a book which appeared at
that time, as it throws a light upon, indeed constituted, one of the
main impulses to which was due the inception of the lectures. I refer
to 'Scientific Religion, or Higher Possibilities of Life and Practice
through the Operation of Natural Causes,' by Laurence Oliphant; and the
passage to which I ask your attention is the following:

'He can no longer be esteemed an excellent workman who can only work
excellently! for his work, to prove that it is living, must be
generative, and it will not be generative unless the workman has his
mind trained to a clear conception of his own methods and their
connexion with the laws of Nature: and unless he can impart that
understanding by word of mouth: unless, in fine, the sum of his
experience, while he is constantly increasing it, is as constantly
forced by him into mental shape'--or, as I might add, into imaginative
shape and association.

When I read this I seemed to see all crafts and manufactures and
commerce crystal clear and capable of statement, so that, even as they
stood outlined and embodied to the corporeal eye, so they should shine
in all their processes and relations clear as in sunlight to the eye of
intelligence: and it was in such wise that when the time came I
proposed to the Committee of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society
that Lectures should form a part of the purpose of the Society, and
should accompany and be delivered in the building of the Exhibition (1)
to convert the implicit mental processes involved in the exercise of a
craft into explicit articulate utterance capable of making such mental
processes intelligible at once to the worker himself and to the
spectator interested to know, and (2) to widen the horizons of the
workers and to set their work in due relation to the other crafts and
processes with which it was associated, and to the forces of Nature
upon which they and it depended.

Lectures, as announced in the Catalogue, were given in connexion with
the first exhibition by William Morris on Tapestry, by George Simmonds
on Modelling and Sculpture, by Emery Walker on Letterpress Printing, by
myself on Bookbinding, and by Walter Crane on Design.

Perhaps, in view of the results which have flowed from it, and at this
distance of time, I may for a moment dwell particularly on the lecture
on Letterpress Printing. It was at my urgent request that Mr. Walker
overcame his reluctance to speak in public, and I therefore claim for
myself the honour of being the real author of The Kelmscott Press! for
it was in consequence of this lecture given by Mr. Emery Walker at my
request, and the lantern slides of beautiful old founts of type and MS.
by which it was illustrated, that William Morris was induced to turn
again his attention to printing, and this time, as a printer, to
produce, in friendly collaboration with Mr. Walker, that splendid
series of printed books which has inspired printing with a new life,
and enriched the libraries of the world with books as nobly conceived
and executed as any that distinguish the great age of Printing itself.

The 'Notes,' to which reference has already been made, occupied a
little more than a third of the Catalogue, and treated of:

    Decorative Painting and Design,
    Wall papers,
    Metal work,
    Stone and Wood carving,
    Stained and Table glass,
    Printing, and

and as they contain the doctrines of the new movement so far as it was
applicable to the crafts of which they treated, it may be worth while
to turn over a few pages and to see what those doctrines are.

Mr. Morris, who writes on Textiles, opens at once on his subject.
'There are,' he says, 'several ways of ornamenting a woven cloth.' He
then enumerates the ways as follows: (1) Real Tapestry; (2) Carpet
weaving; (3) Mechanical weaving; (4) Printing or Painting; and (5)
Embroidery; and proceeds under each head to lay down principles,
accordant with the particular method, for the production of the
ornament required, and concludes his note with some general maxims
applicable to all the methods alike, as thus, 'Never forget the
material you are working with, and try always to use it for doing what
it can do best: if you feel yourself hampered by the material in which
you are working, instead of being helped by it, you have so far not
learned your business, any more than a would-be poet has, who complains
of the hardship of writing in measure and rhyme. The special
limitations of the material should be a pleasure to you, not a
hindrance: a designer, therefore, should always thoroughly understand
the processes of the special manufacture he is dealing with, or the
result will be a mere _tour-de-force_. On the other hand it is the
pleasure in understanding the capabilities of a special material, and
using them for suggesting (not imitating) natural beauty and incident,
that gives the _raison d'etre_ of decorative art.'

In a note on wall papers Mr. Crane goes into useful detail as to the
conditions of successful pattern making for their decoration. As,
however, our purpose is only with the more general lines and direction
of the movement, we need not follow him into this detail, and I will
leave it with the remark that this and kindred notes by him and others
show sufficiently that the writers did not confine themselves to
general principles difficult of application without intermediary
illustration, but addressed themselves vigorously to the actual
practice of the craft treated of, and sought to quicken it into life at
once by Principle and Precept, by Example, and by Trade Recipe.

Continuing our exploration of the Notes, we next come upon an
interesting one by the late--alas! too many of the early workers in the
movement have ceased to be with us, and I feel here tempted to break
off, and, in sympathy with that sublime chapter of Ecclesiasticus which
I have recently been printing, to commemorate 'our fathers that begat
us,' the great Dead.

    Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms,
    Men renowned for their power,
    Giving counsel by their understanding,
    And declaring prophecies.

Burne-Jones, William Morris, Madox Brown--'these be of them that have
left a name behind them to declare their praises.' And some there be
that have no memorial save the memory of them enshrined in the hearts
of them that knew them. But adequately to commemorate were too great an
enterprise, and I return to my immediate topic; and yet, as I turn, one
of great name, greater than all whom I have named, impels me to pause
and to praise him, him who begat the begetters, him who was 'as the
morning star in the midst of a cloud, as the moon at the full,' Ruskin!
To him we all owe whatever of impulse is in us toward that goal whose
outline it is my business to describe to you to-night. To Ruskin, then,
all honour, all praise, to Ruskin, the great Dead who in life, living,
begat us!

To resume.

The Note on Fictiles, by the late G. T. Robinson, carries us to the
dawn of art and craft, for, as says Mr. Robinson, 'Man's first needs in
domestic life, his first utensils, his first efforts at civilization,
came from the mother earth, whose son he believed himself to be, and
his ashes or his bones returned to earth, enshrined in the fictile
vases he created from their common clay. And these fictiles,' continues
Mr. Robinson, 'tell the story of his first art instincts, and of his
yearnings to unite beauty with use. They tell, too, more of his history
than is enshrined and preserved by any other art; for almost all we
know of many a people and many a tongue is learned from the fictile
record, the sole relic of past civilizations which the destroyer Time
has left us. Begun in the simplest fashion, fashioned by the simplest
means, created from the commonest materials, fictile _Art_ grew with
man's intellectual growth, and fictile _Craft_ grew with his
knowledge--the latter conquering in this our day, when the craftsman
strangles the artist alike in this as in all other arts. To truly
foster and forward an art,' concludes Mr. Robinson, 'the craftsman and
the artist should, where possible, be united; or, at least, should work
in common, as was the case when, in each civilization, the Potter's Art
flourished most, and when the scientific base was of less account than
was the art employed upon it.'

It is not necessary for our purpose to go through the succeeding Notes,
or to say more than that, assuming the principles which underlie all
great art, they deal in their several ways with a number of crafts
which the creative ingenuity of man, working, as described by Mr.
Robinson, for the satisfaction & for the adornment of the satisfaction
of his wants, imaginative and real, has in different circumstances and
at different times invented, and seek, amid the confusion which has
arisen in the abuse of these crafts by pseudo-craftsmen and artists,
who have approached them from the outside, to restore to them their
sanity, alike in process and in choice of material, in aim, and in the
expression of beauty and of purpose.

The master-principle, however, to be deduced from the Notes may be here
restated in the words of Mr. Morris, for it is a principle applicable
to the whole range of imaginative creation: 'Never forget the material
you are working with, and try always to use it for doing what it can do

To the catalogues of the two following exhibitions more Notes were
added, and finally, in 1893, all the Notes were put together and
published in one volume, entitled 'Art and Crafts Essays by Members of
the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society,' with a Prefatory Note by
William Morris. This volume was reprinted in 1899.

In the Prefatory Note Mr. Morris sets out the purpose of the Society as
understood by him--too narrowly, I think. 'It is,' he says, 'to help
the conscious cultivation of art and to interest the public in it, by
calling special attention to that,' in his judgement, 'really most
important side of art, the decoration of utilities by furnishing them
with genuine artistic finish in place of trade finish.' To this I shall
return by and by.

After the Prefatory Note comes the Table of Contents of the volume. And
looking for a moment down the long list of tongues in which Craft,
under the guidance of Art, is striving to speak afresh, how can one
fail to lament the time now past and to wish it back, when these
tongues, now the language, and too often the quite artificial language,
of a professional and specially trained class, were but the vernacular
of one common language, widely and familiarly spoken, and craftmanship
itself but 'joy in widest commonalty spread'; joy in working in all the
various ways of imaginative invention, upon all sorts and kinds of
material, material brought from afar, sought with danger or grown in
pastoral peace; joy in making and devising things of use and of beauty,
homely things, princely things, things of beauty for beauty's
adornment, noble things for a city's; all amid Nature's own, yet
unsullied, immense creativeness, all for the admiration and use of
vigorous emergent and vanishing generations, whose common bond in life
was the thing so made, its beauty and its use.

We may now leave the explanatory preludes, the Notes, and turn to the
Lectures, to which reference has already been made. They were given, I
think, at each Exhibition, except the last, and in the Exhibition
itself, and were meant, besides the objects officially announced in the
catalogues, to widen the scope of the Exhibitions, otherwise restricted
to things of minor importance only, and to extend the attention of the
public to things not present in the Exhibition, though to be imagined
and thought of in association with it. And here we may expect to find,
and shall find, as I shall show, a more extended view of the aims of
the Society as set out by itself.

It is matter of regret that, save one series presently to be mentioned,
and a lecture by William Morris, no record has been kept of them. They
were delivered, and are now perhaps forgotten. And yet how stimulating,
how interesting the circumstances of some of them! William Morris, on a
raised platform, surrounded by products of the loom, at work upon a
model loom specially constructed from his design--now in the Victoria
and Albert Museum--to show how the wools were inwrought, and the
visions of his brain fixed in colour and in form; Walter Crane, backed
by a great black board, wiped clean, alas! when one would have had it
remain for ever still adorned by the spontaneous creations of his
inexhaustible brain; George Simmonds, demonstrating to us the uses of
the thumb, and how under its pressure things of clay rose into life;
Lewis Day, designing as he spoke, and bringing before our inner eye, as
well as the outer, the patterns of Asia and of Europe in stage after
stage of development; Selwyn Image, by his studied elocution, taking us
back to the church which he had left, but with sweet reasonableness
depicting before its shadowy background the bright new Jerusalem toward
which his enfranchised imagination burned; Lethaby, entrancing us with
the cities which crowned the hills of Europe, or sat in white on the
still seashore, or mirrored in the waters of Italy: all vanished, save
the memory of them! And here, dwelling in memory on the past, may I not
recall the fervour, the enthusiasm of those first years, the ready
invention, the design, born of the moment and the occasion, for
catalogue, rules and room; and one design that caused so much,
long-forgotten commotion--the design by the President, to be hung over
the out-door entrance to the gallery, of artist and craftsman, hand in
hand! But how recall them to those who knew them not? Impossible! I
mention them only in piety to that holy time, when we circled about the
founts, and played, of that great movement which is now the world's!

As I write these words I am reminded of that definition to which I said
I would return. 'The aim of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society'--I
repeat the definition--'is to help the conscious cultivation of art,
and the attempt to interest the public in it, by calling special
attention to that really most important side of art, the decoration of
utilities, by furnishing them with genuine artistic finish in place of
trade finish.'

Surely this is a strange misapprehension & restriction of the aims of
the Society! Were that the only aim, then the movement was not what I
imagined it to be, and still imagine, nor would it be worthy of your
attention to-day, not to speak of the world's!

In the same preface in which this definition occurs there is a passage
which I passed over at the time, but which at this stage of our history
it is important that I should notice. 'We can,' says the writer,
'expect no general impulse towards the fine arts till civilization has
been transformed into some other condition, the details of which we
cannot see.'

And it was therefore--because we could expect no general impulse
towards the fine arts, until this obstacle was removed, that we were in
the meantime, and this was to be our 'movement,' to help the conscious
cultivation of art, which the writer at the same time says is no art at
all, and the attempt to interest the public in it!

Here I am at issue with the writer, and would submit that this general
impulse must precede and _itself_ bring about the transformation: and
further that this general impulse is precisely and already the impulse
constituting that great movement dubbed 'Arts and Crafts,' and that its
aim is not merely to help the conscious cultivation of art pending the
transformation, but itself to bring the transformation about.

In fact, I submit that in the intention of the founders, or in the
intention of some of them, Art is, or should be, an agent _in the
production_ of noble life, and not merely an executant dependent upon
and presupposing its existence.

As some evidence of this intention, I may adduce the following
conclusion from an unpublished Report of the Committee to the Members
of the Society. 'In conclusion, the Committee would venture for a
moment to take their stand upon the higher plane of the Society, and to
say a word or two upon the cause which in the opinion of the Committee
constitutes the claim of the Society to attention and support. For a
small body of artists to band themselves together, simply to produce
and to exhibit objects of art for an age which is not indeed
essentially inartistic, but which, by the accident of the failure of
the imagination to grasp and mould its dominant realities, has not had
revealed to itself the splendour of its opportunities, or of the
meaning of Beauty in association with Industry and Science--for a small
body of Artists to band themselves together for such a purpose is
indeed something; but it is to leave unfulfilled, unessayed, the main
function, in this and every age, of all great Art and of all great
Artists. Such Art and such Artists would and should, whilst still
producing, as best they may, if not "things of immortal Beauty," at
least "things of their own," strive at the same time to understand the
true drift and possible Ideal of the Age in which they live. It is the
function of an Artist to divine the Ideal of an age, and to express it
in manifold Form. The Ideal of the present age has been neglected by
him. The actuality has been left as an actuality, unredeemed by ideas,
to those whose sole business it is to carry on, and to constitute, the
actuality of the age. But there is above and beyond every Actuality an
Ideal upon which it can and should be modelled. It is this Ideal which
it is the function of the Artist--which it is the function of this
Society--to discover and to express, in great things as in small, in
small as in great: and the Ideal, expressed, is then as a great Light
to those who sit in darkness; it is a light towards which the soul of
Actuality turns; it is that which, aspired to, gives to an age dignity
and immortality, and converts the work of the hand and brain from work
that is sordid and mean, to work that is imaginative and noble.'

But the claim does not rest on unpublished records alone. This I think
will be apparent if attention be given to the one series of Lectures
which has survived their delivery, and been published. I refer to 'Art
and Life, and the Building and Decoration of Cities,' a title which of
itself carries the scope of the Society beyond all the possible
Exhibits of an Exhibition.

The object of these Lectures is thus explicitly stated by the Lecturer
on 'Art and Life,' which introduces the series, and his statement is
borne witness to throughout by all the other speakers. The statement to
which I refer is as follows: 'I now begin the first of a series of
Lectures having for their object generally the extension of the
conception of Art, and more especially the application of the idea of
Beauty to the organization and decoration of our greater cities.' And
of his own Lecture he says: 'I desire to extend the conception of Art,
and to apply it to life as a whole; or, inversely, to make the whole of
life, in all its grandeur, as well as in all its delightful detail, the
object of the action of Art and Craft.'

And in the course of it the Lecturer thus defined what seemed to him
the function of art in this extended conception of its meaning. 'Art
implies a certain lofty environment, and is itself an adjustment to
that environment of all that can be done by mankind within it. Art as a
great function of human imagination is not the creation of isolated
objects of beauty, though isolated objects of beauty may indeed be
created by art, and, in themselves, resume all that is beautiful,
orderly, restful, and stable in the artist's conception of that
environment. Still less is it, what some may seem to imagine, the
objects of beauty themselves. Art is, or should be, alive, alive and a
universal stimulus. It is that spirit of order and seemliness, of
dignity and sublimity, which, acting in unison with the great
procession of natural forces in their own orderly evolution, tends
to make out of a chaos of egotistic passions, a great power of
disinterested social action; which tends to make out of the seemingly
meaningless satisfaction of our daily and annual needs, a beautiful
exercise of our innumerable gifts of fancy and invention, an exercise
which may be its own exceeding great reward, and come to seem to be
indeed _the_ end for which the needs were made.'

It was thus and thus that, in the inception of the Society, we sought
to 'divine' the Ideal of the Age, and to give effect to it in the work
which lay immediately to hand. But it was not to such work only that
the ideal was to be extended. 'Nor,' continues the Lecturer, 'do I stop
at deeds to be done in such unison. I demand in the name of art--and
here is especially the note and distinction of Modern Art as I conceive
it--I demand in the name of art, that Science itself, that knowledge,
shall enter upon a new phase, and itself become, in the mind of man,
the imaginative _Re-presentment_ of the universe without, an analytical
knowledge of which has hitherto been its one sole and supreme aim.'

Again, in another matter, bearing upon the aims of the Society & of the
movement, I must, albeit reluctantly, dissent from the view taken of it
by my friend Mr. Morris. It will help, perhaps, to clear up the

In an article 'On the revival of Handicraft' published in the
'Fortnightly' in 1888, the year of the first Arts and Crafts
Exhibition, an article interesting and stimulating as are all the
writings of Mr. Morris, there is, amid so much that is admirable, a
statement which would sweep away the whole of modern life, & render the
achievement of its distinctive ideal an impossible dream--a
consummation devoutly to be wished! we can indeed imagine Mr. Morris to

'As a condition of life,' Mr. Morris says, 'production by machinery is
wholly an evil.'

But surely this is altogether questionable. Surely things there are,
the production of which by machinery may be wholly right, things which,
moreover, when so produced may be wholly right also, and in their
rightness even works of art.

Great works of art are useful works, greatly done. In the same article
Mr. Morris, deprecating, as I would do, the exclusive production of
Beauty for Beauty's sake, goes on to say, as I would wish to say: 'In
the great times of art, conscious effort was used to produce great
works for the glory of the city, the triumph of the Church, the
exaltation of the citizens, the quickening of the devotion of the
faithful: even in the higher art, the record of history, the
instruction of men alive or to live hereafter, was the aim rather than

But if in the great times of art, great works were the aims of great
art rather than beauty, why to-day should not great works still be the
aim of great art rather than beauty? Is to-day wanting in great works
waiting to be done in the great way, which is the way of art? or is it
that to-day all great works are machinery only, and so an evil,
incapable of artistic treatment?

But, to take a simple instance, one short of that complete
Transformation of Life which should be the main aim of art, to take a
practical problem of modern life, the supply of water to a great city,
consider the grandiose character of the problem, despite, or shall we
say in consequence of, the mighty mechanical agencies now involved in
its solution--the fetching of the water from the far-off pure source,
the hills of rain & of snow, to the city of the plain and the sun, its
storage and distribution, by the immense pulsations of machinery, day &
night, year after year. Is not that a noble problem for the imaginative
faculties of the artist, only less noble than the supply of the Holy
Spirit from the pulpit or the altar, to the massed congregation at
their feet, or than the summons from Tower or Belfry to unity of action
or of prayer, of the separated members of a city or a Church? But such
a problem, since the great days of Rome, is not thought of in connexion
with art, nor is the grandiose character of its solution so much as
dreamed of--the carriage of the water to the city, one long triumphant
procession: and within the city what noble works! first in importance,
the pumping station; how prosaic it sounds! yet to the imagination how
magnificent! that mighty heart, that to the uttermost ambit of the city
drives the far-off burthen of the hills! Then the public fountains in
the great thoroughfares, at the great crossings & in the great squares;
noble works of art, at once to typify and to actualize a city's purity
and to satiate a city's thirst, and for a city's joy and remembrance,
in pleasant shower, to cast into the air the liquid drops which first
fell for it, and fall, on the distant heights of snow. And finally in
each house, in each room, the separate jet, the very taps this time
ablaze with beauty for happy beauty's sake, and happier use!

Again, to take a larger instance--still an instance of machinery. The
people of England, like the people of Rome, have been engaged for a
thousand years or more in making a constitution, a great piece of
machinery, for their own governance, and are still engaged in that
task, and are likely to be engaged in it, perhaps for a thousand years
or more to come. It is a great task, a great problem, ever changing its
conditions with the changes which, with other causes, its own changes
bring about: it is also, or should be, a great work of art as well as
of machinery, in which, in future ages, will be seen the moral &
imaginative framework of this people of England. That work of art
should be had in view in the struggles of the moment, should be had in
view and be promoted by every citizen who would do more than live out
his individual years in selfish & ignoble isolation; but it should
especially be had in view by the people as a whole, be their ideal,
their supreme work of art; and theirs whom the people's will has placed
at their head to mould and to guide their destinies, theirs, so that
when the world's history shall be rounded off and resumed in planetary
stillness, and in the consciousness of the gods, England, England's
history, shall shine out starlike, England, which shall have made, not
itself its goal, but an immortal purpose--ideal freedom and the world's

Such is one other great work of art, of machinery, still awaiting
accomplishment, still awaiting the devotion to which all great art is

But art to-day has no eyes, no devotion, & so for art there is no great
object, and for the great object no art. Nor does the great artist, as
does the great opportunity, sojourn in our midst. Such art and artists
as there are, and are there any? are but engaged in the conscious
cultivation of art for art's sake, or of beauty for beauty's sake,
pending the great transformation which, meanwhile, is no affair of

Of such art and of such cultivation, nothing need be expected: and such
art and such cultivation are certainly not in my judgement, nor are
they, so far as I know, in the judgement of the artists whose revolt
founded the Society, the aims of the movement now passing under its

What those aims are, I will now, from my own point of view, endeavour
to restate: for of the subsequent exhibitions of the Society, nothing
more need be said. Subsequent exhibitions, whether in England, on the
Continent, or in the United States of America, were, and are, but
repetitions, with variations only of detail, of the first, and need no
description; though against exhibitions themselves I may be allowed
before I pass away from them to urge one objection, an objection, not
indeed condemnatory of them, but an objection which should, I think, be
borne in mind in promoting them, and be obviated as far as the
circumstances of each exhibition will permit. The objection which I
would urge is this.

An exhibition, as I have already insisted, is but a small part of the
Arts & Crafts movement, which is a movement in the main of ideas and
not of _objets d'art_, & there is a danger in the constant repetition
of exhibitions, civic, national, and international, of public attention
being diverted from the movement of ideas, & action thereupon, to the
mere production and exhibition of exhibits. Moreover, of exhibits,
very few things, relatively to the whole of life's possessions and
productions, can be brought together usefully, or at all, under one
roof, and of those which can very few can tell their own tale,
apologize for their shortcomings, or of themselves ask to be forgiven
for the sake of their approximate merit. It was to guard against the
danger of this possible diversion of interest and forgetfulness of the
movement's greater purposes, and indirectly, by suggestion of the
ideal, to illuminate the possible deficiencies of the exhibits, as well
as to draw attention to their merits, that the aid of lectures was made
an essential part of at least the scheme of the Society: and lectures
of the kind in question, lectures, that is to say, which shall deal at
large with the meaning, as well as the contents, of an exhibition, are,
in my opinion, an essential adjunct of every exhibition.

With this objection stated, I now proceed to wind up my observations
and to come to a conclusion. But before doing so I must ask your
attention in one other matter in which I find it necessary to differ
from Mr. Morris.

But pray note that it is a matter of interpretation only in which here,
as elsewhere, I presume to differ from that great spirit, now passed
away. Only in the matter of interpretation, for I do not--how could
I?--call in question, here or anywhere, the greatness of the aims of
William Morris himself. I claim only (1) that the movement which I am
attempting to describe had a higher aim than in his own despite he
assigned to it in the passage I have quoted: (2) that machinery may be
redeemed by imagination, and made to enter even into his restored
world, adding to the potency of good, and to its power over evil, which
itself, in my view, it is not: and (3) finally, & this is the last
point of difference to which I shall have to call your attention, that
the age upon which mankind entered, at the close of the fifteenth
century, was one of decay of an old world indeed, but at the same time,
and this was its characteristic, was an age in which a new and a
greater world came to the birth, as in this age it is coming to
maturity, and that it is with this new world, and not with the old
world, that the movement & ourselves have now to do.

To resume, and to revert to what I was about to say.

In that magnificent brief lecture on Gothic Architecture, which was
first spoken as a lecture at the New Gallery for the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society in the year 1889, and afterwards printed by the
Kelmscott Press during and in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition in the New
Gallery, 1893, Mr. Morris traced, with lightning-like swiftness and
clearness, the progress of Gothic Architecture from its first inception
by the Romans in the invention of the Arch to its consummation in the
exquisitely poised and traceried buildings of the close of the
fifteenth century.

At the end of the fifteenth century, Mr. Morris says, 'the great
change' came, & Mr. Morris means that we and Architecture, our
principal structural expression, entered upon a period of decay. But I
would rather--and here is my point of difference--I would rather put
it, that the great change came in that the inner vision was substituted
for the outer; or, better still, that one inner vision was substituted
for another inner vision and that the outward expression of the latter
was arrested. Its buildings had been built and the passion for them
exhausted, for the world which had inspired them had vanished, &
another had been born or created in its place: partly another world of
fact, the newly discovered continent of America, and the whole round
world itself; partly another world of ideas, the ancient world and its
literature, Greece and Rome. At the end of the fifteenth century the
printing press was at work, and Europe left for a time the outer world,
the world of the senses and material building, and entered into the
inner world, the world of imaginative reason, of ideas--communicable
henceforward, for a time, by the printed page only, whereon only it
could build up and contemplate the vision of its extended universe.

Ever since that time this vision has been growing, taking on new matter
for greater change still, and now it is worldwide indeed, and the time
has come to cast its inspirations into form, to embody them in works of

What of the past is past is no matter of regret, but somewhat of the
past is imperishable because it is of all time: such is the instinct to
build. The building of the past is built and is in decay. The building
of the future has yet to be built. Of what will it be?

The answer to this question will be the answer to the question: What,
then, is the movement which I am attempting to describe?

The building of the future will be the building of the industries
thereof, the building of its ways of looking at things determined by
the vision which has taken the place of that old vision, under the
inspiration of which were built the buildings of the past.

And the first thing to build will be the vision itself, the supreme
vision--for 'where there is no vision the people perish.'

The important, the essential thing in the Architecture of the early and
middle ages, as of all ages, is not the Architecture itself, but the
exaltation of sentiment and knowledge, and skill of hand and brain,
which produced it, and the vision of life which was also the creation
of the sentiment, and in turn its inspiration. The vision, indeed, here
as elsewhere & always, is the important, the essential thing. What then
is there in the life of to-day comparable in exaltation to the vision
of that day, what vision competent to produce to-day an Architecture of
life and occupation, with resultant material and imaginative
expression, comparable to the Architecture of life and occupation and
resultant material and imaginative expression, which the vision of that
day was competent to produce and did produce?

There is one set, static universe, or vision, the Norm of Life, in
which all force is at rest, at rest in equilibrium, in equilibrium of
motion, and there are in the many minds of men innumerable versions
thereof, isolated, unrelated or related, sequent, one: set in motion by
passion, crime, terror, frenzy, even of hate, love, madness, ambition,
or by the soft touch of the dreamer of dreams, the musician, painter,
poet. But be these visions what they may be, they are but visions,
which die again into the norm, the static universe, which is the tomb,
as it is the womb, of all motion, at once the birth-place and the
cinerary urn of all change, the all in all. It is with this all of
change and rest, that the soul of man, athwart all distraction, aspires
to be at one, at one for the fruit of its energy in creation, at one
for the control of its energy in rest, in rest interlocked, repose

And if I were asked, as I have asked, what that supreme vision, that
Norm of Life, in plain words was, I should say that it was the vision
of the universe as revealed to-day in history & science, including in
science all that is not man, though revealed by man working to that end
through the ages, and in history all that is man, all his doings, all
his imaginings, all his aspirations, all whatsoever that is his, but
all seen in the light of science, positively--the vision of the
universe, framed in the infinite. And I should say that man is at the
top of his thought when in exalted, ecstatic contemplation thereof, and
at the top of his doing when in action in accordance therewith, be the
action what it may be. And I should say that the supreme consciousness
emergent from the supreme vision was the consciousness of Being--the
wonder, I AM--and of its inexplicable, insuperable mystery.

The next thing to build will be the work of the world in the light of
this supreme vision so seen and understood.

A time arrives in the development of the world's work when, in addition
to the perfect workmanship and beauty of the world's wares, the
embellishment of the world's work itself should become the object of
ambition of those who carry the world's work on, an embellishment which
may take one of two forms, but should take both: the embellishment by
material means and the embellishment by ideas. In embellishment by
material means the senses are satisfied and the imagination touched,
and we have noble roads and houses, noble cities and harbours, noble
wharves and warehouses, noble modes and means of communication, and
noble modes and means of creativeness, and, crowning and giving
significance to all, crowning and expressive ceremonial: in
embellishment by ideas we have the illimitation which is the
characteristic of the imagination, and enables us to see and to create
wholes and relations which surpass the sweep of the senses, and are
visible to the eye of reason only; it is thus that we have the vision,
and see all man's work in its entirety and as part of the universal
process of creation.

Thinking, then, dispassionately of the world, not for my country's sake
or another's, but for man's, I am haunted by the vision of this its
industrial life, as the matter of man's art to-day. And there come to
me the murmur of the beat of far-off waves on an unknown shore, the
rustle and the struggle of winds through unknown forests and over wide
spaces of inhabitable land: I see the masts of shipping far asunder,
solitary, on the wide seas, or clustered into peopled harbours: I see
the busy hives of industry, glittering like fanes of light by the
river's side or bridging them--all part and parcel of the ocean, the
land, and the air, obedient like them to the cadency of thought, as day
and night, the seasons and the years, beat out their sequences and bear
life onward into the future, or leave it, silent, in the irrecoverable

Such a world, such a wealth of animate forces, such a vision, the
creation in part of the unknown force, God, in part of man, who is
ourselves, _such_ is the vision upon which, pending the arrival of
the shadow which is Death, we should fix the eyes of Art, permeating
all, embracing all, producing all, even as would do, were he us, the
supreme force, God.

As of the world of man's work, so of all the visions within the
vision--build with the instincts of fitness and beauty, build & await
the Shadow: to-day again, for a time, comes the light, again and yet
again. In the infinitude of sequences the soul rests, and whilst it
rests, resting, it disappears, even as in life, into sleep, into Death.
Build and await the Shadow.

Such as I dream it is the Vision of Life, such the Vision of man's
world within it, such the Vision of Art, such, or something like it,
the Vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement, its inception, its history,
and its aims.

'And here I will make an end. And if I have done well and as is fitting
the story, it is that which I have desired: but if slenderly and meanly
it is yet that which I could attain unto.'

It may be, indeed, that I have all the while been describing some other
movement, & not that of the Arts and Crafts at all; some movement that
has been taking place in my own mind, as I have had the possibilities
of man's being and doing brought home to my imagination 'in thoughts
from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men': for in
the Introduction to the Lectures on 'Art & Life,' to which reference
has been made in support of the Vision, it is stated that the Lectures
are not to be taken, nor is any of them to be taken, as the official
expression of the aims of the Society!

But be the official expression of the aims of the Society what it may
be, it is the VISION, _some_ VISION, which imports your good,--which I
urgently commend to your attention. WHERE THERE IS NO VISION THE PEOPLE

Printed at the Chiswick Press: Charles Whittingham & Co., Tooks Court,
Chancery Lane, London. And sold by the Hammersmith Publishing Society,
River House, Hammersmith.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Arts and Crafts Movement, by
Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson


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